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American Veterans Conference

On Saturday I spent the day in the company of America's most decorated and distinguished veterans and active duty personnel from World War II to the present day! The American Veterans Center hosts a three day conference in Washington, DC at the United States Navy Memorial every year with panels and discussions. My mom and I attended the Saturday sessions and the entire day was just jam-packed full of amazing stories. If you have the chance to attend next year, I highly recommend it!

The first session highlighted two WWII veterans, Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson and Robert Izumi. These two men had incredible stories! 

 Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson was a combat pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen and was shot down on his 19th mission. He was a POW in a Germany camp for the remainder of the war.
Photo via National Air and Space Museum

Robert Izumi served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and saw action in Italy before volunteering for paratrooper duty. He was transferred to the 101st Airborne Division and was the only Japanese American in the 101st. He saw action in Bastonge and served with the 506th PIR through the end of the war.
Photo via Normandy to the Bulge
One of the morning sessions featured Holocaust survivor, Emanuel "Manny" Mandel who grew up in Hungary during WWII. He and his family were among a group of Jews that Adolf Eichmann - one of the major organizers of the Holocaust - offered to trade for Allied material. When negotiations broke down, they were sent to Bergen-Belson camp, the notorious camp where Anne Frank died. He eventually made it back to Switzerland, and finally to the U.S.
Emanuel "Manny" Mandel as a young boy. Via United States Holocaust Museum 

There was a session with three recipients of our nation's highest military award - The Medal of Honor.

Besides the WWII sessions, the "Valor of the Front Lines" session was probably my favorite. It featured four veterans from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. They all spoke on a common theme—courage and integrity.

Captain Florent Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor for thwarting a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan.

Major Mary Jennings Hagar is a U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard veteran of Afghanistan. She is the sixth woman in history to be decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (the first being Amelia Earhart), and only the second to receive the award with Valor Device.

I promptly put her book "Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front" on my to-read list! 

CPT Walter Bryan Jackson is a West Point graduate and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor in Iraq. 

SFC Micheal Schlitz is a fourteen-year U.S. Army veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and was severely wounded by a IED in Iraq in 2007. 

The last sessions featured witnesses to history including U.S. Army Veteran and Secret Service agent, Clint Hill. He's best known for his act of bravery on November 22nd, 1963 when he rushed to shield Mrs. Kennedy and the already stricken President Kennedy with his body after the first shots rang out. Clint Hill is sitting on the far right in the picture below:

It was really an amazing event! Check out American Veterans Center to learn more about their mission!



Here's a piece of flash fiction I wrote when I was probably supposed to be studying or something. Oops. =)

Peleliu | 0200

It’s in the middle of the night when it really gets to you—missing home I mean. When you’re sitting in a foxhole and staring up at the pitch black sky something happens. I know it’s the same moon and stars that look down on my family in Virginia, but it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it. How can the same cosmos that shine on peaceful fields and that old run-down farmhouse shine on men riddled with bullets as their blood stains the ground beneath them? Boys. Not even men. How? I don’t know. So I try not to think about it.

“You know, the Japs could be watching us right now. In those leaves over there …”

Of all the guys I could get stuck with, it had to be Jackson. He’s only eighteen years old and jumpy as heck. I glance back at him and can only see the outline of his helmet in the shadows. “Shut up.”

He sighs nervously and I catch the sound of ammo rattling as he repositions himself. All is quiet again. I strain my eyes to see into the darkness. Nothing.

“I heard stories about them you know …” Jackson again. I get a good grip on my machine gun and keep my eyes fixed ahead. We’re in Peleliu. Anything can happen. “I heard stories of what they’ll do if they catch us.” He turns to me, hoping for some reassurance I guess.

I don’t give him any. “Yeah well, the stories are true.”

That shuts him up for a few more minutes, but not long enough for my liking. “I always wanted to be a Marine ever since I was a kid.”

You’re still a kid, I want to say. I’m still a kid. But I don’t. “Oh, so this is your dream come true.” I don’t mean to sound so sarcastic. But I’m tired. I’m tired of this war and seeing one friend after another blown to pieces.

“No.” He’s quiet for a long moment. “Didn’t think it would be like this.”

“Yeah Jackson, none of us did.”

“But we’re doing the right thing.” He sounds almost hopeful.

I grit my teeth, annoyed and bitter. “Great, you’re one of those idealists.”

“I’m a Marine,” Jackson says, his southern drawl hanging on a war-torn breeze. “I swore to defend the United States against all enemies. That’s what I’m here to do.”

“You’re here to kill.”

“And protect my country.”

I’m envious of him. I really am. I wish I had his optimistic nature. When you’ve seen your buddies killed, something just breaks inside you and suddenly you forget what you’re fighting for. At least I have.

“Someone has to do it, Williams," he says to me. "Someone has to protect and defend our families, our country, our way of life. So we’re doing the right thing. I'm proud to be here.”

He is right, but I don't have that patriotic zeal like I used to. It was so easy to feel when we were marching in sharp uniforms and basking in cheers.

It’s not so easy to feel on Peleliu island ...


D-Day Ohio 2017

I had another great year at D-Day Ohio and, per usual, returning to the 21st century after such a fantastic event was a challenge. 2017 marked my third year as a member of the French resistance, and this year I was armed with a new weapon—a reproduction German Walther P38. It was super fun (and loud) to shoot! Besides portraying a French resistance fighter, my sister and I also joined the American Red Cross Clubmobile, otherwise known as the Donut Dollies. We had a very full weekend! 

Hanging out with a downed airman before the battle ... 

It was quite a feat getting him into that tree. Some German soldiers came over with their tank to help!

A battle begins ... 

During one of my (many) deaths, a German soldier rifled through my backpack and found a map. There I was lying on the ground watching all these boots form around me and hearing angry German soldiers shouting from above. Such fun. 

I just can't keep a straight face ... 

 The French farm house ... 

Looking very serious during Operation Jedburgh Training ... 

And not so serious!

Some snapshots of camp life ... 

After the battle of Foucarville, we welcomed our Airborne liberators ... 

Now some pictures of the Donut Dollies! We gave donuts and candy cigarettes to soldiers en route to the D-Day invasion ... 

USO dance ... 

It was so much fun chatting with Liberty from Operation Meatball!

To finish this post off, I have to share this adorable picture someone shared on the D-Day gallery. The cutest. 

Vive la resistance!